LEEDS UNITED head into Saturday’s home encounter with bogey side Cardiff City following back-to-back defeats for just the second time in the Championship this calendar year, but the concern has largely been reserved for the more chaotic and bewildering developments behind the scenes instead as opposed to the dual setbacks.
That said, a concession of a combined total of seven goals in losses to Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers is something that is not a particularly edifying statistic, with Leeds now assigned with ensuring that they get back on track and don’t spoil a positive 2015 on the pitch by letting the season peter out. It has been known before..
Here’s five observations from United’s Easter period, which over the past couple of decades has largely been a time in the football season to forget for Whites followers.
1: The sacking of Steve Thompson on a madcap Thursday made for the worst possible preparation for Neil Redfearn and his players.
The bombshell decision on Thursday to dismiss Thompson, widely regarded as one of the main reasons behind United’s dramatic improvement in the second half of the season in winning eight out of 13 games prior to the Easter programme, was a damaging psychological blow not just to Neil Redfearn, but his players.
Players, especially experienced ones, need to be won over and don’t suffer fools gladly on the training ground or in the dressing room. Respect has to be earned and Thompson earned the respect of the United squad and was a genuinely popular figure on a daily basis, with his input and presence obviously highly valued by Redfearn.
Ask the players also, with renaissance man Luke Murphy crediting Thompson with playing a key part in transforming his Leeds career, which looked over at the end of 2014. Sol Bamba, another catalyst in United’s upturn, has also spoken about the value of Thompson’s input.
The playing squad and staff would have been forgiven for viewing events on Thursday with a fair degree of exasperation, with the development also isolating Redfearn, whose bitter disappointment and bewilderment on Thursday was obvious - as he was left to consider his own future. Not to mention a Roses clash with Blackburn Rovers in a few days time and a trip to a Wolves side with confidence oozing through every pore.
2: Defensive standards have dropped.
It was a day to forget on Saturday and more especially for Guiseppe Bellusci, who had an at times cringeworthy and torrid afternoon against Blackburn Rovers, with Leeds losing their way after the controversial dismissal of Rudy Austin. With spaces to exploit and a natural born goalscorer in Jordan Rhodes in the visiting line-up, it was just the Easter present that Blackburn who have been craving. They have not half had the rub of the green in two games against Leeds this season.
Calling in next up at Wolves, the division’s in-form side and with pace to burn up front in the shape of the likes of Benik Afobe and Nouha Dicko, was probably one of the worst fixtures United could have possibly had, from a defensive perspective. More especially after expending plenty of energy in a physically and mentally tiring defeat to Blackburn, with Wolves’ speedsters having an extra day to recover after triumphing 2-1 at Nottingham Forest on Good Friday. United’s worst fears were realised with Wolves stretching the visiting backline continually with error-strewn Leeds all at sea at the back for large parts of proceedings.
3: Lewis Cook has been a real miss.
Despite only turning 18 in February, Cook has been the heartbeat of United’s midfield all season, with much of their best work evolving around him, with his presence missed over Easter with an ankle injury ruling him out. His partnership with Luke Murphy has proved one of the main reasons for Leeds’s upturn with his maturity belying his tender years. Cook’s poise and control has orchestrated proceedings for Leeds in a number of games this season - the best example being his classy performance in the outstanding win over Bournemouth in January. He can mix it with the best and his absence has certainly been noted, with Redfearn hopeful it won’t be for too much longer.
4: Events have gone against Leeds.
The dismissal of Rudy Austin for a clash with Ben Marshall on Saturday arrived at a time when Leeds were on top against their Roses rivals, with his energy missed following his exit from the stage. In a week which showed that when it rains, it pours, it represented an unlucky development. The sending off was all the more unfathomable, given that no players appealed and few saw anything untoward happen, only for Gary Sutton, who had a fitful day, to dismiss the Jamaican after consulting with his assistant. Playing against ten men from the 38th minute onwards took a fair bit of petrol out of the tank ahead of Monday’s clash at Wolves, who as mentioned previously had the benefit of an extra days’ rest, which was more than handy.
5: United strikers have been struggling for goals all season.
Steve Morison’s travails in front of goal are well-known, while Billy Sharp has been in and out of the United line-up for considerable parts of this season.
Factor in also Souleymane Doukara, Adryan and Edgar Cani being on the periphery and then there’s the Mirco Antenucci business, don’t even go there...Leeds’s striking department has been pretty toothless all season, small wonder that bringing in a prolific forward or two represents the priority for whoever is in the United dug-out in 2014-15. All told, United’s striking pool has managed twenty Championship goals between them so far this term - just two more goals than Alex Mowatt, Rudy Austin, Sam Byram and Luke Murphy have contributed from midfield.